Published October 2013

Sweet Home Alabama

5 reasons to explore the southern charm of Mobile

BYJackie Dishner
Shrimp boats, oyster beds, alligator sightings, kayaks and canoes, the Mardi Gras, and fresh Cajun seafood — all of this and a heaping taste of Southern hospitality in a relaxed coastal setting. New Orleans, right? Wrong! C’mon, baby, laisse les bons temps rouler (let the good times roll) in Mobile, Ala.
 
Mobile, pronounced “Mo-BEEL,” the city where Nicolas Cage just completed filming his new movie “Tokarev,” offers all the joie de vivre you’ll find in the parishes of its more popular neighbor to the west. But this port city is less expensive, less congested, and more family-oriented.
 
Looking at a map, the aerial view of Mobile Bay leaves the impression that someone’s pointing an index finger at the port city, saying, “Go hee-uh!” The early French explorers must have felt a similar pull when they first arrived more than 300 years ago to begin settling the Louisiana Territory. The currents from the bodies of water that envelop the city (five rivers, the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta and Mobile Bay) brought them to land. Whatever the case, this discovery opened doors to what has evolved into the laid-back lifestyle enjoyed today. 
 
Older and less commercialized than New Orleans, Mobile offers visitors a quaint and quiet place to play.
 
1. Spend time on Dauphin Island
At the southwestern edge of the bay, where the water flows into the Gulf of Mexico, sits the barrier island that first captured the attention of the French explorers in the late 17th century. They named the only port (at the time) on the gulf Isle Dauphine. French, English, Spanish, and Confederate flags flew overhead until the U.S. took control after the War of 1812.
 
Today, the island — an Audubon-recognized bird sanctuary — is a regional vacation destination for birders and others alike. Take a ferry or cross the bridge to rental houses with boat docks and fishing piers, see the ribs of a 19th-century shipwreck and hear cannons fire at a historic fort, explore marine life at Dauphin Island Sea Lab (Alabama’s only marine science education and research laboratory), swim and watch sunsets on white-sand beaches, and partake in a picnic or oyster roast.
 
2. See Mardi Gras
The French brought with them the annual Mardi Gras tradition, then called Carnival — to indulge before fasting for Lent. The first recorded celebration occurred in 1703. Today, it’s 16 days of revelry culminating the night before Ash Wednesday. Expect public parades with dancing harlequins, marching bands, and dramatically decorated floats.

Learn more about America’s birthplace of Mardi Gras at the Mobile Carnival Museum. Inside the white, two-story Italianate building with iron railings, you’ll read about mystic societies that plan the events, see masquerade ball gowns and costumes, and find colorful beads and other Mardi Gras trinkets for sale in the gift shop. This is the place to imagine what it’s like to be cloaked in a 150-pound jeweled train. Posters, video footage, and photographs detail the history, pomp, and circumstance.
Mardi Gras celebration in Mobile, Ala.
Mardi Gras celebration in Mobile, Ala.
Catch a Mobile Bay Bears game
Catch a Mobile Bay Bears game
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